an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘Dunedin study

a bonobo world? 6 – cultural dynamism, females, families and inhibitions

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the nuclear family – actually modern, not traditional

Most broadly, culture is defined as the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. No culture is static, though it may seem so when looked at from the viewpoint of a more dynamic culture. But why are some cultures more dynamic than others?

The Bronowski comment on taking ‘the first step on the ascent of rational knowledge’ echoes in my head when I reflect on this question. But ‘rational knowledge’ strikes a false note, as there isn’t any knowledge that is irrational. And the most essential thing that any animal, human or otherwise, must know is what to do to survive. Every species that has survived for any length of time has obtained that knowledge, and in a dynamic culture, one faced with external threats and challenges, both cultural and environmental, that knowledge must continue to grow. That’s the key to our ever-changing culture – social evolution rather than the kind of physical adaptations described in The Origin of Species. That is why, for example, we have belatedly come to realise that women deserve as much opportunity, to be educated, to be productive, and to be leaders in any field they choose to enter. It is why Bronowski’s ‘Ascent of Man’ series, with its more or less exclusively male examples of strength and aptitude, seems cringeworthy after only a few decades. 

The argument of course goes that man, like the Latin, homo, is simply a generic term for the species, and we (i.e women) should just get over it. The origins of the words woman and female are complex, but surely it’s clear that they are add-ons to the words man and male, afterthoughts like the woman in the Bible created from a man’s rib. In French, the word femme appears to be quite different from homme, but femme means wife as well as woman, the implication being that one’s wife is also one’s woman. No such implication exists for the word homme. The cultural implications of our everyday terminology continue to be impactful, and awareness of these implications is more important, I feel, than artificial changing of the language, helpful though this may be. 

Of course, no environment is static either, and animals need to be quick to adapt to new environmental threats. The paleontological record is full of species that failed in this regard. Arguably, we may do so too, if the threat is too overwhelming, but surely nothing is currently in the offing, in spite of some doomsayers. The global warming we’re currently experiencing, for example, is far less threatening to our superabundant species than was the Toba eruption of 70,000 years ago, during the last ice age (though its effects, too, are disputed). Global warming is an existential threat, however, for many other species, already pushed to the brink by deforestation, overfishing and other human activities. Yet many will say that our ingenious species – by which they generally mean the dominant culture within our species – is even better at finding solutions than creating problems. And there are many good news stories, even in relation to those other species that we keep threatening. This is indeed the ray of hope, for our species and for others. It’s my view that, if we succeed in the future, it will be because we have gradually become more compassionate, more inclusive, more frugal and more collaborative, without losing the adventurous, questing, scientific spirit that has made us so successful. 

In describing this possible future I’ll strive to be realistic and evidence-based, and that’s where the example of bonobos comes in, for this description of a future humanity fits loosely the bonobo society – without quite the scientific spirit of course. I will not be idealising bonobo society, but there are increasing problems in our culture (and note that I’m always talking about those of ‘western’ or westernised nations – western Europe, the USA, Australia and Canada – but also Japan, Korea and Taiwan) – problems relating to family, work, resources and government – that might benefit from our understanding of cultures, and species, we feel we have transcended, and the bonobo way of life is a prime example of this. 

The modern human family is more or less nuclear, indeed like the nucleus inside a cell, though we call it a house, or a home. The walls of the house are like a semi-permeable membrane, with doors and windows through which nutrients and chemicals can be funneled, and of course information about the outside world arrives via books, magazines and, increasingly, electronic devices. Of course, some of these families are more functional and happy than others, and a child’s early fate is a matter of luck in this respect. Extended families – grandparents and cousins who live within walking distance – have become rarer, as have long-term neighbours and lifelong friends, due to the increasing mobility of modern life. In my own case, growing up under a seriously dysfunctional parental situation, and separated by migration from the extended family 15,000 kilometres away, I was grateful for a deeper connection to the outside world resulting from books, of which our home always had an abundance. One book which made a deep impression on me in my early teens was Children of the Dream, by Bruno Bettelheim. Of course, I came to the book with a particular hope that there were better ways of raising children than what I’d experienced, so I was bound to see it in a positive light. Regardless of the reality of the kibbutz experiment, what I found in the book’s descriptions opened up for me other options, including richer, more varied and positive relations with elders as well as peers, and a wider sense of belonging than I was experiencing. Trust, acceptance, and a nurturing of challenge and growth, these were the values that meant most to me, and which I found missing both at home and in the school environment I’d been thrown into. Yet it’s also true, or quite likely, that certain events and experiences in my early life, largely hidden from myself, have made it difficult for me to trust and to connect in positive ways. The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a longitudinal study that has been carried out over 50 years now, provides solid evidence of the overwhelming influence of early childhood on subsequent personal development, noting that personality types are established early on in life. My own self-diagnosed type – and the study describes five – is ‘reserved’, bordering on ‘inhibited’. The latter can be a serious problem, which the Japanese describe as hikikimori, roughly translated as ‘acute social withdrawal’, though the problem is hardly confined to Japanese youth. I think, however, I’ve been saved from this acute state by the world of books and ideas, which I love to discuss, when I can bring myself to get out there and do so. 

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ascent_of_Man

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory

https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/short-reads/article/3052639/where-word-woman-comes-and-how-it-has-evolved

Bruno Bettelheim, Children of the Dream, 1969.

Dunedin Study Findings: The Importance of Identifying Personality Types at a Young Age, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Written by stewart henderson

November 3, 2020 at 12:04 pm

the battle for justice part 3 – is there any way to clear your name?

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A prosecution should not proceed if there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction being secured. This basic criterion is the cornerstone of the uniform prosecution policy adopted in Australia.

from ‘The decision to prosecute’, in ‘Statement of prosecution policy and guidelines’, Director of Public Prosecutions, South Australia, October 2014

shit, please don’t tell me the other 24

I’ve argued that it’s pretty well impossible to clear your name, once you’re arrested and charged with a serious crime, due to the nolle prosequi conundrum. And if the charge has to do with a child, you’re unlikely to get work which may involve children, even if no evidence whatsoever has been presented against you, as in my case. But surely there must be some way to clear your name. It can’t be all doom and gloom. Can it?

  1. Approach the former plaintiff

A number of people who know about the case have asked me – what about the boy who accused you? He’s a young man now, maybe he regrets it all and has changed his tune. If he could be prevailed upon to admit it was all a lie..?

To be honest, I have no inclination whatsoever to go looking for him, and it would probably look bad if I did. And if he changed his story after encountering me, or someone acting in my name, how reliable would his new story be? So I’m very reluctant to go down that path, though it might be a last resort.

2. Approach the DPP

More promising, perhaps, would be to go to the DPP. Why did they abandon the case? My guess has always been that the boy’s story was full of contradictions and kept changing, but it’s also possible that, under pressure, he admitted it was all made up. Way back then. As one of my quotes on nolle prosequi, from my previous post, states: Normally the DPP doesn’t give a reason for such a decision. I’m in the process of requesting all the court documents from the case, and maybe a reason for the decision will appear there, but again I’m very doubtful. And approaching the DPP for a reason now would surely be like trying to get blood out of a stone. Still, such a request might be worth a try.

3. Take it up with the ombudsman/human rights commission

Assuming my appeal fails – and it probably will – the DCSI website kindly suggests that I could take the matter up with these other organisations. The obvious problem with this is that it would be a long-term process, and I’m 61 years old, poor, and desperate to be reinstated in the job I love now. So, yes, I do feel it’s a human rights issue, and I would like to take it up, regardless, with the HRC, though I can hardly imagine it being a priority for them. It’s not a serious option for my immediate situation.

4. Appeal to consistency of character

This is the one that screams at me (and at others) as my best defence. We’ve all heard of criminal profiling, where the police or criminologists seek to predict future offending and victims based on past behaviour, but I have no criminal profile. When I was accused by this boy I was forty-nine years old, with no history, and never any accusations, of violence or sexual abuse of any kind. I’d fostered two young boys before this lad, and I fostered another three after him, with no complaints. I’m proud of what I did as a foster carer, and I’m particularly proud of my work as a teacher in recent years, with mostly young adults but a sprinkling of under eighteens in each class – scores  of them overall. And never a hint of a complaint. On the contrary…

And this is what really hurts. When the police arrested me for rape, they had never so much as seen me before. They knew nothing about me, they wouldn’t know me from a bar of soap. They arrested me purely due to the seriousness of the allegation. When the DPP took up the case, passing it from lawyer to lawyer for about a year, none of them knew me from a bar of soap. I was no more than a name. Similarly, when the DCSI began screening me 11 years later, they didn’t know me from a bar of soap. I was just one of the presumably thousands of individuals they had to screen. And they didn’t investigate me, in the way the Dunedin Study studied particular individuals longitudinally – profiling them, essentially. They investigated documents. The documents of the police and the DPP. The documents relating to that one, isolated allegation. Nothing else mattered. Nothing.

So an appeal to consistency of character won’t work when character isn’t being looked at at any point down the line. The DCSI appears to look at documents, not at character. The DPP also looks at documents, police documents, and the police don’t seem to look at anything much. The DCSI has stated that an adverse finding isn’t binding. Employers can make up their own minds. But it’s no surprise that employers, especially large-scale impersonal employers, given the current state of moral concern or panic over sexual abuse, will have a policy of accepting the DCSI finding. Thus in this case, they’ll rely on DCSI documents, which rely on court documents, which rely on police documents, which rely on, in this case, nothing much. I think they call this ‘procedural fairness’. Let’s not let our human, personal biases get in the way of effective decision-making.

The Dunedin longitudinal study, and every other study of its kind, give strong scientific credibility to the insight that the best guide to future behaviour is past behaviour. My life-time record of civilised, tolerant, non-violent and caring behaviour, however, was never taken into account by the police when they asked me to sit down at the Port Adelaide police station, not knowing me from a bar of soap, and promptly charged me with rape. And everything that I suffered over the next year, and everything that the DCSI is putting me through now, results from that event.

I had a chat with my semi-former boss today (I’ve been sort of suspended from work pending the outcome of my appeal). I told her I held little hope of my appeal being successful, because ‘I had nothing more to declare but my innocence’. I didn’t actually say that, just thought of it now, but that was the gist of it. But interestingly I feel more confident now as I go through the processes. That’s the usual way when you’re under this kind of cloud, your thoughts oscillate, often extremely, from pessimism to optimism and back again.

My hope, ridiculous as it is, is that when organisations like DCSI have their noses rubbed into the basic injustice of taking the most extreme, conservative view of nolle prosequi, thus destroying the careers of good people, they will see reason. And they might also be persuaded of the obvious truth that everyone else is taking the most extreme, conservative view of their findings.

I’ll no doubt survive, deprived of my vocation. I’ll go into retirement earlier, I’ll be more pressed for funds. I’ll most certainly miss my students, more than anything. But I won’t give up the fight. I don’t want any of these people to feel complacently that they’re making this world safer for children and young people. In this case, they’re most definitely not. And it’s not good enough to shrug and think that some collateral damage is necessary when you’re doing the ‘right thing’. It isn’t.

Written by stewart henderson

November 14, 2017 at 11:32 am